Like many debaters, during the last year I turned to books to provide me some escapism and entertainment. Helped by the extra free time at home and the decreased number of mandatory readings for university, I managed to read a wide variety of books. Below, I will review three very different books that I each enjoyed in their own way. Of course, it was very difficult to pick only three books to highlight here, since there are so many great books. So if you ever want to chat about books, feel free to reach out to me! Or if you want more book recommendations, you can follow @linseyreads on Instagram.
The Black Flamingo – Dean Atta
When I got more into books throughout 2020, I decided to follow some ‘bookstagram’ accounts on Instagram (people who post book recommendations, reviews etcetera). One of the books that came by a lot when I just started following these people was The Black Flamingo. The reviews and the topic spoke to me and thus I decided to order it.
The Black Flamingo tells the story of a black boy, Michael, growing up and trying to find himself. When growing up, he starts to identify as homosexual and when in university he joins a drag club. While Michael feels at home with the other drag artists, he does struggle with the idea of being a drag artist. The Black Flamingo is written from Michael’s perspective and is all about coming to terms with your identity.
While for some this might sound like a heavy topic, it is written in a very light-hearted way. It is actually a verse novel which makes the book very to-the-point and it is developing quickly. As a consequence, it is hard to put down and easy to finish within a day. However, just reading it in one go might be a shame; when going back to the passages I loved best, I actually found lots of parts that contain multiple meanings and make the book even more interesting.
If you are interested in a book that touches upon identity, race, sexuality, and growing up, all while being easy to read and beautifully written, The Black Flamingo would be something for you! Do not get discouraged by its verse novel style if you have never read those. It actually makes for a very easy and accessible read. Dean Atta himself is actually dyslectic who really aimed at making the book as accessible as possible and succeeded in that.
Lobbyland – Ariejan Korteweg & Eline Huisman
Unfortunately, this book is only written in Dutch, the next one I’ll discuss is in English again.
Lobbyland is a great starting point for everyone who is interested in Den Haag and its political climate. The authors did research into the public affairs sector in politics. While lobbying is often seen as a big evil in debates, this book shows far more of the nuances of how this actually influences Dutch politics. The book is largely based on conversations with people working in the public affairs sector (they don’t want to call themselves lobbyists) or by looking into the careers of former politicians.
This book would definitely be a recommendation for anyone who wants to work in public affairs, politics, or corporate Den Haag but also for anyone who would like to understand the dynamics in these sectors better. It is written in a very accessible manner and I am sure that the next time you’ll be visiting Den Haag, you suddenly see some buildings in a completely different light when you know what is going on behind the closed doors.
The Shadow King – Maaza Mengiste
This book is set in Ethiopia in 1935, on the brink of the Italian invasion. However, it is not so much a historical novel as it is a story of loss, love, identity, and resistance. The main storyline is written from the perspective of Hirut. She recently became an orphan and was put as a maid in the household of Kidane, an army officer.
When Kidane needs to lead his soldiers into a guerrilla war in the mountainous areas around their living area, Aster (Kidane’s wife) and Hirut decide to follow him and they set up a group of women who help the army. At first, they start by caring for the wounded and making the bullets for the weapons. However, Hirut and Aster want to do more to fight the Italians and start to become more active in the army.
While, on the one hand, this is a story of female empowerment in a war situation, it is also a story of hardship and loss. Since it discusses the terrible parts of a guerrilla war as well, it does contain potential triggers for violence and sexual violence. However, one of the strongest parts of this book is the way in which it is written and can discuss atrocities in a very delicate manner which emphasizes the horrors without making it uncomfortable to read.
At first, I felt the book had a bit of a slow start but later in the book, it becomes clear that everything written before had built up to the plot and that it was actually all necessary information to understand the characters. Because Maaza Mengiste really took the time for the book and the development of the characters, it is very easy to feel along with the characters and even understand their worst personality traits. I would highly recommend this book to everyone!
Source cover image: Murals Your Way
Linsey is a debater from the Groninger Debating Society Kalliope and a former treasurer of the Nederlandse Debatbond.